Ria ditched her nonprofit office job in Chicago to teach English overseas. Needless to say, that transition gave her a fresh perspective.
Television shows and movies tend to depict lawyers as powerful and wealthy, and to an extent, they’re right: corporate law is a lucrative business, as are certain kinds of personal injury law. However, getting the top-paying jobs may be out of your reach if you don’t have the right connections. If you’re not particularly passionate about a particular type of law, then you may end up stuck with a degree that you don’t enjoy and doesn’t even pay very well.
That said, if you’re in the early stages of exploring a legal career, don’t throw in the towel just yet! Examine your interests, strengths, and career options closely to see if heading to law school is right for you.
Necessary Qualities to Be a Lawyer
Attention to detail is critical for anyone wishing to be a lawyer. The tiniest detail in a client’s case can make or break how successful you are, and repeated mistakes will only lose you business, or worse. The stakes are even higher in criminal cases, and you can’t afford to slam together a paper the night before it’s due like you did in undergrad!
If the idea of studying for the LSAT is seriously putting you off, that may be a major red flag for you. Law school involves tons of studying, as does the bar exam. Everyday legal work involves a good amount of reading and researching. If you’re not even studious to buckle down for the LSAT, chances are high that legal work will make you miserable.
The biggest obstacle for some may be their inability to stay out of trouble. Once you’re a lawyer, you can be debarred for many legal infractions. Past infractions may not always keep you from attaining bar certification, but they will often keep you from getting a job.
Consider the Costs
Law school can be extremely expensive, and while scholarships exist, they will probably only put a dent in the total cost. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average in-state tuition for public law schools is about $26,264 per year, and of course, private or out-of-state schools cost a lot more. You also have to consider the costs of living you’ll incur, since housing and food aren’t free unless you’re living at home with generous parents.
Also, remember that any time you spend going to law school full-time is time that you could have spent working. If your reason for wanting a JD is to further your career, make sure to research other ways to advance in your field. Experience is often more important than additional certifications. While part-time law classes are theoretically an option, it will take several years to complete your degree, and the likelihood of giving up and dropping out can be high.
Remember: some law specializations pay much more than others! Public defenders and nonprofit lawyers are often paid extremely little compared to corporate lawyers. You'll have a hard time paying off your student loans if you pick an over-saturated specialization that only offers low-paying jobs.
An Emotionally Draining Career
The competition to get into law school alone is intense. Once there, you’ll likely make a lot of friends but may also encounter many people who have no interest in pleasantries. Studying sucks up a ton of time, meaning you won’t even get to decompress by partying the same way you did in undergrad. Since there’s an oversupply of lawyers right now, the competition to get a job means that you have to start the job hunt well before graduation.
Even once you get a job in the legal field, the work is rarely pleasant. Lawyers often work 60 hours a week, and even vacation time can be interrupted with urgent calls from the office. Labor and family lawyers commonly work evenings to accommodate their clients’ work schedules. Clients are sometimes hostile and unhelpful, and even the nicest ones can be short-tempered if they’re going through a tough time.
It gets even worse if you’re a criminal or family lawyer. Ever sat through divorce proceedings where kids are involved and both parents are flinging accusations at each other?
Do Some Soul-Searching
Why do you want to be a lawyer? Is it for the challenge of tough problem-solving? The money? The chance to make a difference in the world?
Ultimately, there may be a more viable way for you to achieve your dreams. If you like solving tough challenges while making a difference, becoming a researcher for a nonprofit may be the way to go. If you want money, there are probably a hundred other options that don’t put you in nearly as much debt as law school. Programming requires the same attention to detail as law while being somewhat more flexible with regards to skills and certifications.
If you’ve made it through this article and are still asking yourself “Should I be a lawyer?” the answer may well be no. You shouldn’t go into law because it seems like a decent option; you should go into it because it’s the option for you.
Of course, if the above warnings didn’t faze you at all, maybe that’s a sign that you’re seriously in love with being a lawyer! Congratulations! Hopefully, you can find a law school that’s right for you and pick a specialization that gets you your dream job. Good luck!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Ria Fritz
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Liz Westwood from UK on November 12, 2018:
Choosing law is not for the faint-hearted.